750 F.3d 273 (3rd Cir. 2014), 13-1549, Halsey v. Pfeiffer

Docket Nº:13-1549, 13-2236
Citation:750 F.3d 273
Opinion Judge:GREENBERG, Circuit Judge
Party Name:BYRON HALSEY, Appellant v. FRANK PFEIFFER; GERALD ALSTON; PETER BRANNON; RUSSELL COLUCCI; KEVIN CONNORS; GERALD COURTNEY; RAYMOND LYNCH; JOHN PROPSNER; EDWARD SANTIAGO; JOHN DOES NOS 1-100; RICHARD ROES NOS 1-10; PLAINFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENT; CITY OF PLAINFIELD; COUNTY OF UNION
Attorney:For Appellant: David Rudovsky, Esq. (argued), Jonathan H. Feinberg, Esq., Kairys Rudovsky Messing & Feinberg, LLP, Philadelphia, PA; Peter J. Neufeld, Esq., Emma Freudenberger, Esq., Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann, Esq., Neufeld Scheck & Brustin, LLP, New York, NY. For Frank Pfeiffer, Appellee: Edward ...
Judge Panel:BEFORE: JORDAN, VANASKIE, and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:April 24, 2014
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 273

750 F.3d 273 (3rd Cir. 2014)

BYRON HALSEY, Appellant

v.

FRANK PFEIFFER; GERALD ALSTON; PETER BRANNON; RUSSELL COLUCCI; KEVIN CONNORS; GERALD COURTNEY; RAYMOND LYNCH; JOHN PROPSNER; EDWARD SANTIAGO; JOHN DOES NOS 1-100; RICHARD ROES NOS 1-10; PLAINFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENT; CITY OF PLAINFIELD; COUNTY OF UNION

Nos. 13-1549, 13-2236

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

April 24, 2014

Argued December 18, 2013

Page 274

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 275

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 276

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 277

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. (D.C. Civ. No. 2-09-01138). Hon. Dennis M. Cavanaugh, District Judge.

For Appellant: David Rudovsky, Esq. (argued), Jonathan H. Feinberg, Esq., Kairys Rudovsky Messing & Feinberg, LLP, Philadelphia, PA; Peter J. Neufeld, Esq., Emma Freudenberger, Esq., Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann, Esq., Neufeld Scheck & Brustin, LLP, New York, NY.

For Frank Pfeiffer, Appellee: Edward J. Kologi, Esq., Michael S. Simitz, Esq. (argued), Kologi & Simitza, Linden, NJ.

For Raymond Lynch, Appellee: Robert F. Varady, Esq. (argued), LaCorte, Bundy, Varady & Kinsella, Union, NJ.

BEFORE: JORDAN, VANASKIE, and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 278

GREENBERG, Circuit Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

The facts underlying this appeal--many of which are undisputed--are hardly believable. Plaintiff-Appellant, Byron Halsey, a young man with limited education, learned that the two small children for whom he had been caring had been tortured and murdered. He wanted to help in the investigation of these heinous crimes but found himself isolated in a police interview room, accused of the murders, told he had failed a polygraph examination (that we now know he passed), and confronted with false incriminating evidence. For a time he maintained his innocence, but, after being interrogated for a period extending over several days, and in a state of great fear, he signed a document purporting to be his confession to the crimes. Subsequently, he was charged, indicted, convicted, and sentenced to prison for two life terms. But his " confession" contained details that the investigators must have inserted because Halsey could not have known them. And the real killer, though he had a record of sexual assaults, was known to the police, and was an obvious potential suspect as he lived in an apartment next to the one that Halsey, the children, and their mother occupied, avoided arrest despite nervously asking the investigating detectives whether he would be " locked up." Finally, after 22 years the State of New Jersey released Halsey from prison, not because trial error cast doubt on the result of his criminal trial, but because it had been established beyond all doubt that he had not committed the offenses. Except when an innocent defendant is executed, we hardly can conceive of a worse miscarriage of justice.

After his release, Halsey filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 with supplemental state-law claims alleging that state actors and entities involved in his prosecution had violated his constitutional rights. The defendants included, inter alia, defendants-appellees Frank Pfeiffer and Raymond Lynch, the two investigating police officers who Halsey claims (1) fabricated

Page 279

the oral confession that led to the prosecutor filing charges against him, (2) maliciously prosecuted him, and (3) coerced him into signing the fabricated confession, which was the critical evidence at his criminal trial. On appellees' motions for summary judgment, the District Court entered judgment in their favor on all three claims on February 21, 2013, because the Court believed that they had qualified immunity from Halsey's claims. Halsey v. Pfeiffer, Civ. No. 09-1138, 2013 WL 646200 (D.N.J. Feb. 21, 2013) (Halsey). Halsey then filed this appeal.

We will reverse and remand the case to the District Court for further proceedings. First, we reaffirm what has been apparent for decades to all reasonable police officers: a police officer who fabricates evidence against a criminal defendant to obtain his conviction violates the defendant's constitutional right to due process of law. Second, we reinstate Halsey's malicious prosecution claim, principally because the prosecutor instrumental in the initiation of the criminal case against Halsey has acknowledged that the false confession that appellees claimed they obtained from Halsey contributed to the prosecutor's decision to charge Halsey, and for that reason we will not treat the decision to prosecute as an intervening act absolving appellees from liability. Moreover, without that false confession, there would not have been direct evidence linking Halsey to the crimes so that the prosecutor would not have had cause to prosecute Halsey. Therefore, the District Court should not have held on the motions for summary judgment that appellees had a probable cause defense to Halsey's malicious prosecution claim. Third, we conclude that because the evidence was sufficient for a rational jury to find that appellees, who had interrogated Halsey for many hours, had coerced him into signing the false confession, the Court should not have granted appellees a summary judgment on Halsey's coercion claim.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The record that the parties submitted to the District Court on appellees' motions for summary judgment contains some disputed facts that we recount, as we must, in the light most favorable to Halsey, who was the non-moving party, though in doing so we do not ignore undisputed facts favorable to appellees. We emphasize, however, that we are not deciding that appellees are liable to Halsey as we cannot be certain of what evidence the parties will introduce at trial, and that evidence may vary significantly from the evidence before the District Court on the motions for summary judgment. In any event, Halsey did not file a cross-motion for summary judgment and even now does not contend that he is entitled to a judgment in his favor without a trial.

The record, as now developed, shows that on the morning of Friday, November 15, 1985, the superintendent of the apartment building in Plainfield, Union County, New Jersey, in which Halsey resided, discovered the body of eight-year-old Tyrone Urquhart who had been murdered in the building's basement. The superintendent notified the police, and when the officers arrived at the apartment house, they also found in the basement the body of Tyrone's seven-year-old sister, Tina, who like Tyrone, had been murdered. Tina had been raped, beaten, and strangled to death; Tyrone had been sexually assaulted, mutilated with scissors, and killed with five large nails hammered into his brain. It is difficult to imagine more brutal crimes. The killer was Halsey's friend and next-door neighbor, Clifton Hall, who had a prior record for attempted sexual assault. Naturally and appropriately, the

Page 280

police interviewed Hall who, at that time, appeared to be nervous and asked whether he was " going to be locked up." J.A. 627.1 But Hall need not have been worried about that possibility because the investigators focused their attention almost immediately on Halsey, and, so far as we can ascertain from the record, they did not actively treat Hall as a suspect.

Halsey, who had been living with Margaret Urquhart, the mother of Tyrone and Tina, in the apartment building, considered her children to be his own. Halsey, however, was not a model citizen as he had a record that included numerous arrests, though most were not for violent crimes and none had resulted in his incarceration. At the time of the children's murders, Halsey was 24 years old with only a sixth-grade education, and was, by his own account, not " a good reader." J.A. 270. Indeed, in 1988 he tested in the " Mildly Mentally Retarded" range of intellectual functioning, with an I.Q. score of 68. J.A. 890. Pfeiffer was aware of Halsey's cognitive limitations.2 Halsey had worked as a superintendent until about a week before the murders in the building where he, Urquhart, and the children lived and during that employment had access to the basement where the bodies were found. But, as he later would tell Pfeiffer, he had relinquished the basement keys prior to the murders and we do not know if he continued to have access to the basement after his employment as superintendent ended.

Halsey was at his new job at another location when Urquhart telephoned him and told him that her son was dead. Understandably, he rushed home to his apartment, which he immediately discovered to be a crime scene. Pfeiffer and other detectives intercepted him and required him to accompany them to the police station for questioning, which Halsey reluctantly did.

Because the events that transpired once Halsey arrived at the police station that Friday morning were critical to the disposition of the summary judgment motions and are critical on this appeal, we recite them at length. The detectives took Halsey to an interview room in the police station, read his Miranda rights to him, handed him a Miranda waiver form, and left him alone to decide whether to sign the waiver. After Halsey signed the waiver, Pfeiffer and Lynch returned to ask him questions, and Halsey's answers were the first of three statements that Halsey either gave or which was attributed to him.

In the first statement, Halsey told the detectives--in significant detail--about his activities the night of the murders. Halsey stated that Urquhart left to play bingo and then went straight to work for a night shift, leaving Halsey alone with the children. After she left, Halsey went next door to smoke marijuana with Hall. As he left the apartment, he locked the doors and warned the children not to let anyone in. After Halsey and Hall smoked marijuana, they left the apartment building to go drinking at various bars....

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP